Movie Theaters in New York City Can Open in March at 25% Capacity

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  • New York City cinemas can open on March 5.
  • Theaters will be allowed to operate at 25% capacity.

After nearly a year of closures, New York City cinemas will be permitted to open on March 5, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday.

Movie theaters in the city will be allowed to operate at 25% capacity, consistent with rules currently in place for locations in the rest of New York State.

The movie theater announcement follows a recent series of moves the governor has made over the past few weeks to reopen the state's economy. Large New York City arenas like Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden are preparing to welcome a limited number of fans for live basketball games beginning Tuesday.

Last week, Cuomo said indoor family entertainment centers, such as arcades, trampoline parks and laser tag facilities, could reopen beginning March 26 and outdoor amusement parks will be able to return April 9 at limited capacity.

"Governor Cuomo's announcement that movie theatres can reopen in New York City in the first week of March is another important step towards restoring the health of the movie theatre industry and of our company," said Adam Aron, CEO of AMC, in a statement.

Aron said the company will reopen all 13 of its New York City theaters on March 5.

Notably, March 5 also marks the day that Disney's "Raya and the Last Dragon" becomes available in theaters and on Disney+ and Lionsgate's "Chaos Walking" hits cinemas. Later in March, Warner Bros.' "Godzilla v. Kong" will also make its debut.

Masks required

"Movie theaters in New York will be brought in line with the rest of the state: 25% capacity; no more than 50 people per screening; masks; assigned seating; social distancing; staff to control occupancy, traffic and seating to ensure compliance," Cuomo said. "They need the enhanced air filtration, ventilation and purification standards that DOH has specified."

Cuomo has repeatedly said the state has seen the end of its post-holiday coronavirus spike while simultaneously warning the emergence of highly contagious virus strains, like the B.1.1.7 strain first identified in the U.K., could derail the state's progress and reverse its downward trend in cases.

New York is reporting a weekly average of 7,400 Covid-19 cases daily, a more than 13% decline compared with a week ago and the state's lowest average since the beginning of December, according to a CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

"Theater owners are pleased with the announcement that New York City movie theaters will be allowed to safely re-open," the National Association of Theatre Owners said in a statement. "Stringent voluntary health and safety protocols have made it possible for cinemas across the country to operate safely and responsibly at higher capacity limits for many months without a single outbreak of COVID-19 being traced to movie theaters."

"New York City is a major market for moviegoing in the U.S.; re-opening there gives confidence to film distributors in setting and holding their theatrical release dates, and is an important step in the recovery of the entire industry," the group, which represents more than 33,000 movie screens in the U.S.

A key market

New York City is a vitally important hub for movie ticket sales. There are nearly 300 cinemas in New York state, but the key geographic metric that analysts are focused on is New York's designated market area, or DMA.

This is an area surrounding New York City that includes part of Connecticut and New Jersey and excludes cinemas north of Albany and west of Cooperstown. Within this DMA are 234 cinemas that represent 7.4% of the total domestic box office, according to Comscore.

That is the second-highest driver of ticket sales in the U.S., just behind the Los Angeles DMA, which accounts for 8.9%.

New York City has above-average ticket prices and population density, meaning it generates more money for the industry than other areas of the United States and Canada. That's one of the reasons studios have been keen to push films along the calendar and wait for New York theaters to reopen to the public.

The city also had massive advertising penetration. Movies that perform well in the city generate buzz that helps sell tickets in other parts of the country.

Not to mention, New York City is symbolically important because it is one of the places where there are a high concentration of Hollywood producers, directors and actors living in the area.

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